Monday, March 27, 2006

The Revolution Rolls On

A few months ago, on a tip from a friend, I picked up the book REVOLUTION by George Barna.

The essence of his analysis and proposal for the future of the American church is summarized in this promo paragraph:

"World renowned pollster George Barna has the numbers, and they indicate a revolution is already taking place within the Church—one that will impact every believer in America. Committed, born-again Christians are exiting the established church in massive numbers. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? And what does this mean for the future of the Church?"

In contrast to the conventional hand-wringing and admonishment over church members' "lack of commitment in this generation," coming from pastors and denominational leaders, Barna welcomes the "new" trend and even celebrates it as a harbinger of a new spiritual awakening in America. Is it really that? I suppose time will tell, but I do think he's on to something.

My reasons for thinking so were at first anecdotal and subjective. I don't have to look outside my own small circle, nor in fact outside my own shoes to find Christians vaguely disenchanted with church as we know it.

In my own case, leaving a church after 10 years of intense involvement was motivated by other and even more basic concerns: The growing awareness of a kind of authoritarianism and later, after further research, the conclusion that there was indeed something in the DNA of the local group and it's parent movement significantly at odds with New Testament teaching. While the church was and still is full of many wonderful, Godly people, there were issues regarding their leaders'inherited views of the body of Christ, the priesthood of the believer and the role of authority within the church. The church government afforded no place at the table for the church member, by vote or by representation. These factors certainly served to exaggerate some of the problems Barna says Revolutionaries are reacting to in more normal church experiences. This was System and Structure and Top-down management on steroids.

But it was then, in the wake of that experience, in thinking about Church and asking the question "now where? and "what?", Barna's REVOLUTION arrived on the doorstep.

Like Barna's "revolutionaries" many of us have not left the Bible, the Lord Jesus, or our fierce commitment to the Church, the body of Christ, in any sense of the word. But we have had second thoughts about the "church"—the structure, the hierarchies, the systems that in some cases have hindered, not helped our pursuit of and service to God and His people. Weariness of top-down strategies, programs and methods that justify the existence of professional staffs but don't necessarily center around God Himself, weariness of ambitious leadership whose motives we're not so sure of, and a desire for simplicity are the sort of things we talk about. We are ready for revolution, but we're not sure exactly what it will look like!

And now, with the discovery an old resource and line of thinking, my reasons for optimism about change are both forward looking (a la Barna) and historical. The book is THE PILGRIM CHURCH by E.H. Broadbent, published by Marshall-Pickering. Written in 1931, it cannot be construed as a trendy, band-wagon treatise. It is a scholarly, well-documented summary of church history—the non-official version—tracing the growth and movements of the "Revolution" in nearly every age and place around the world. Often maligned by the Roman and Orthodox authoritarian systems, and even by the supposed "Reformers", these groups are remarkably consistent with each other and with what many are longing for today, even in Evangelicalism: Simplicity, an end to the elevation of men and their expensive strategies, an end to the clergy/laity divide, a greater focus on God, His Word, and spiritual transformation. These early revolutionaries suffered terribly and often paid with their lives. We're only "weary and vaguely disenchanted," so we can't complain too much, but some parallels are remarkable. I'm only about 30% through this book, but the pattern is clear...and the theme timeless. Here's an excerpt:

"In addition to the circles to which these belonged, others were formed within the Church of Rome, the result of spiritual movements which developed in such a way as as to bring multitudes of persons, who belonged nominally to that communion, to leave the religious services to which they had been accustomed, and to gather round those who read and expounded to them the Word of God."

Such was the "revolution" in France, Bulgaria, Bosnia and other places in...1100!

Not to suggest, of course, that the modern American church is anything like the medieval Roman one in it's excesses and departures from the New Testament teaching. Or, that Christians need to run from their local churches and church commitments. But the pattern is interesting, and maybe the lessons Barna believes today's church leaders need to learn from the Revolutionaries can also be learned from church history. Developing...


MamaD said...

This reminded me of what C. S. Lewis said about reading old books.

What's Old Is New

"The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity ('mere Christianity' as [Puritan pastor Richard] Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."
--"On the Reading of Old Books"

Ben J said...

good thoughts Terry. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts here. I hope all is will at home and at work.